CLEARFIELD – Though significant cuts have been made in recent weeks, Clearfield County’s tentative budget still had a deficit of just over $200,000 when it was approved Tuesday.
On Nov. 13, the commissioners unveiled a budget draft that projected a deficit of $1,587,136. It factored in a 2-mill tax increase, projected to generate $699,722 in revenue, which brought the deficit down to $877,364.
Of the initial deficit, the commissioners attributed $1,241,534 directly to costs related to the increase in crime, drug abuse, active homicide cases and the increase in the daily inmate population at the Clearfield County Jail and the necessity to house inmates in Jefferson County.
According to the commissioners, to cover the increased costs for crime and inmate population, an additional $507,150 was allocated to jail operations, with an additional $704,384 going toward the courts and court-related offices, including Domestic Relations, Children and Youth Services and Probation.
There was also an additional $30,000 allocated to the coroner’s budget for increases in post-mortem autopsies required for drug overdose deaths.
Since the presentation of the budget draft Nov. 13, the commissioners have worked with court officials, elected row officers and appointed department heads to identify cuts that could be made to decrease the deficit down to the current figure of just over $200,000.
More specifically, the commissioners acknowledged the efforts of District Attorney William A. Shaw Jr. cutting $37,500; Sheriff Mike Churner cutting $46,218; Treasurer Carol Fox cutting $20,750; and Register and Recorder Maurene Inlow cutting $28,250 that, in total, decreased the deficit by $132,718.
Commissioner Mark B. McCracken expressed his personal “disappointment” in Prothonotary Brian K. Spencer, who refused to make requested cuts. He said the commissioners will now have to make these cuts themselves.
Currently, the commissioners are continuing to work with President Judge Fredric Ammerman and Court Administrator F. Cortez Bell to implement $117,200 in cuts across the budgets controlled by the courts that will bring the deficit down to approximately $85,000.
In a joint statement issued by the commissioners Tuesday, it was noted Ammerman is trying to address the deficit situation but has requested additional time before making his final recommendations.
“We understand Judge Ammerman has a number of departments he manages and will need some extra time to review and make the $117,200 in anticipated adjustments,” the commissioners stated.
“We are able to accommodate Judge Ammerman’s request because we have until Dec. 27 for the budget to be finalized.”
Beyond the courts and the row offices, the commissioners enacted cuts totaling $163,550 from budget line items under the control of the commissioners.
The commissioners would like to make it “unequivocally clear,” the budget deficit and the tax increase to deal with it are directly the result of crime, drug use and the increase in inmate population.
“Unfortunately, … good people are being asked to shoulder the responsibility for the costs of solving problems caused by bad people,” Commissioner John A. Sobel, chairman, said.
“This budget, for next year, is premised on a 2-mill tax increase. That isn’t fair, and we understand that. Unfortunately, we are charged with the responsibility by other levels of government of dealing with these problems. That’s our responsibility, that’s our obligation, and we will deal with those problems.”
The commissioners indicated that any cuts implemented to balance the budget will remain in effect until the daily inmate population drops to a sustainable level, allowing the jail to spend significantly less.
Commissioner Tony Scotto noted that the county’s budget deficit also resulted in cuts in stipends to outside agencies, such as the Conservation District and Clearly Ahead Development.
He said the commissioners had to identify what they could and couldn’t afford because of their responsibility to the taxpayers. He said this budget was very difficult and trying, and was going to impact many people.
Moving forward, Scotto said the county needed to find effective rehabilitative options for non-violent criminals to bring down jail- and court-related costs.
McCracken said despite the cuts, this budget will allow the county to provide the necessary services, and the commissioners, in cooperation with the prison board, will continue to work toward a solution to the inmate population issue.
The budget is required to be on display for at least 20 days and will be available for review on the county’s Web site at www.clearfieldco.org.
A final vote on the budget will take place at a special meeting of the Clearfield County Commissioners scheduled for 10 a.m. Dec. 27 at the commissioners’ conference room.